In memoriam: Tony Pidgley CBE
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British Dressage lost a great supporter in Tony Pidgley last week and his passing will be felt by many in the sport. He was a generous man, never losing sight of his humble beginnings and used his own success in life to inspire and support others.
A ‘Barnardo’s boy’, Tony was adopted by Bill and Florence Pidgley and aged just 15 set out to build his empire. It started with a single truck and through hard work and determination built into a haulage firm and which he sold to Crest Homes, and this is where in interest in housing and construction was sparked.
He founded Berkeley Group in the mid-1970s which is now recognised as one of London’s largest private home builders. He remained active with the company as Chairman right up until his passing. He was awarded a CBE in 2013 for services to the housing sector and the community.
With his first wife Ruby he had two children, Tony Jr and Tania before they divorced in 1999. A chance meeting with dressage rider Sarah Hill at the Berkshire Polo Club lead to romance and marriage – and a love of horses and dressage.
They invested in horses together both for Sarah and others to ride and produce with Markus Gribbe and Damian Hallam having served as home trainers at their Berkshire base. Sarah branched successfully into breeding and the Pidgley’s have Duke of Britain, now in Germany ownership and ridden by Frederic Wandres, to their credit.
They also supported para riders Nicola Tustain and Sophie Christiansen. They gifted Rivaldo of Berkeley to Sophie and, although a quirky horse, ‘Robin’ taught her a great deal and was one of the landmark para horses. The Pidgleys always kept and active interest in Robin and Sophie’s success and were very proud of their double gold World Championship performance in 2010.
Sarah pursued a career in judging and is now at 4* FEI level while Tony and Sarah’s daughters Annabella and Jessica both developed into talented riders. Annabella is following a dressage path having represented Great Britain in both 2018 and 2019 on the pony team while Jessica events, with some dressage too.
Tony and Sarah have also been keeping an eye on the future and have brought some talented youngsters which are with Annabella’s trainer Cathrine Dufour in Denmark being produced for Annabella to aim for teams alongside current contenders Belafonte and Dibert L.
Tony also generously backed the charity War Horse Memorial, which recognises the role of service animals during World War I, and their statue of ‘Poppy’ which takes pride of place in Ascot, was a result of his backing. He proudly passed her most days when driving but never wanted any notoriety for his support.
Together Tony and Sarah have steadfastly supported a number of areas in dressage, often with no public mark of thanks, at their request. From generous hosts at the picturesque Kilbees Farm for social events, judge training and youth team training to benefactors of a number of initiatives around BD Youth and the development of para dressage, they have been staunch supporters and impacted on many in the sport, and most are unaware of their help.
British Dressage Chief Executive Jason Brautigam commented; “To lose any member of the dressage community at any time is always desperately sad, but as Tony left us so suddenly this has come as a shock to everyone. Our heartfelt thoughts are with Sarah, Annabella and Jessica at this difficult time. Tony was a larger than life character, who often had strong views and opinions, but he was always very generous with his time, offering us his input and guidance based on his immense business knowledge and experience. His life story is inspirational and proof that hard work can not only reap rewards, but leave an invaluable legacy behind. Tony made a significant contribution to our sport, which was often totally unheralded at his own request. We’ll always be eternally grateful for his backing and what he helped us achieve in a number of areas, but particularly with BD Youth, where he was a passionate supporter of our talent development programmes. He’ll be missed by us all and we offer our deepest sympathy to his family and friends.”